SEO Truths Or Should That Be SEEO?

by Barry Welford September 23rd, 2009 

The SEO Gurus and Experts have been somewhat less vocal than usual over the past few months.  It can be traced to the revelation by Mark Cutts at SMX Advanced in Seattle as reported by many including Lisa Barone and Dan Thies that  basically nofollow might not work like people expected for sculpting PageRank.  You might have expected that, if it did not work, this might already have been spotted by some of the gurus.  However there was no hint anywhere that this might be so.

Ashamed SEO

My colleague, Brian Carter, may well have been tuning into the same groundswell with his recent post, 4 Reasons Why SEO Blogging Sucks.

His four reasons were:

  1. Why Give Away Your Competitive Advantage?
  2. Theories About What Works in SEO Abound, But Are They Right?
  3. Few People Have And Disclose Solid SEO Research
  4. SEO Is Controversial, So Why Bother?

He might have added a 5th reason:  it is unclear what can really be said with any authority about SEO.

Searching for SEO Truths

How do we then track down the truths.  Some might say we should Go Straight to Google for SEO Truths.  As one commenter put it:

Every now and then Matt Cutts will “reveal” something really interesting, but most of the stuff he talks about is common knowledge. Gotta test it on your own. It either works or it doesn’t. Trial and error. Don’t have to be a genius to get SEO down to a few easy processes. Reverse engineering is what it's all about.

David Berkowitz also gives assurance that You CAN Handle These SEO Truths

If you're looking to make sure you're covering all bases with search engine optimization, a good place to start is Rebecca Lieb's new book, "The Truth about Search Engine Optimization." You'll find 51 truths in this book, covering everything from link development to video optimization. They're bite-sized chunks, and if you feel well-versed in some areas but want some help with others, it's easy to flip around and read it in the order that matters most to you.

However not everyone agrees.  Attempting to be controversial, Justin Brooke titled his book, SEO Lies | A Book About SEO Truths.  He offers 5 SEO Lies You've Been Told:

  1. SEO Is Hard
  2. SEO Takes A Long Time
  3. You Need Lots Of Content
  4. Don't Use Duplicate Content
  5. NoFollow Links Don't Count

He strongly encourages you to get the book, and learn the truth.  Many might strongly disagree with what he says, but this does illustrate the large differences in opinion that exist on SEO.

SEO Myths

SEO Myths

Using the word lies was deliberately provocative.  However the same difference of opinion is shown by the more diplomatic word myth that some use.  For example, Jill Whalen listed her Top Ten Organic SEO Myths

  1. You should submit your URLs to search engines.
  2. You need a Google Sitemap.
  3. You need to update your site frequently.
  4. PPC ads will help/hurt rankings.
  5. Your site will be banned if you ignore Google’s guidelines.
  6. Your site will be banned if you buy links.
  7. H1 (or any header tags) must be used for high rankings.
  8. Words in your meta keyword tag have to be used on the page.
  9. SEO copy must be 250 words in length.
  10. You need to optimize for the long tail.

Matt Cutts has also attempted to enlighten people on Some SEO myths.  How can so many different theories continue to circulate on some of these issues? What makes it so difficult?

Why the SEO Truths Are So Elusive

One might question why there should continue to be so much confusion about what is true and what is not true in SEO.  In fact, Google does provide a Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide, dating back to November 2008.  It can be downloaded via this link (PDF file).

http://www.google.com/webmasters/docs/search-engine-optimization-starter-guide.pdf

Why the SEO Truths Are So ElusiveIt has some excellent advice but it is however only a Starter Guide.  Where can we get a Total SEO Manual that will come with a Truth Guarantee.

The problem here is that search engine algorithms are continually evolving and hopefully improving in an attempt to produce ever more relevant query results.  These algorithms include hundreds of factors and it is possible that even the Google engineers are not quite sure of how any given change may impact results.  Google is reluctant to reveal too much since major websites might then attempt to game the system and ensure that the web pages are listed higher than they really deserve to be.

What is one to do?  You could of course study the experts views for example in the SEOmoz Search Engine Ranking Factors 2009.

In some cases you will find a reasonable consensus and can perhaps treat such factors as true.  However for many others you will find a wide range of opinions.  What is a practical way of doing search engine optimization given all this uncertainty?

SEO Basics

Truth is a very hard edged parameter.  Given that we are trying to understand SEO as it applies to small websites of less than a hundred pages and large websites that may have hundreds of thousands of pages, it may be difficult to find truths that will apply whatever the size of the website.  Nevertheless there are some basics that would apply in all cases.

If you read some of the material linked above, you will be able to develop your own list of key factors.  My own listing of the key steps in SEO may provide a starting point here.  A good way of checking whether you have covered all these basics is to see what the Google Webmaster Tools website  has to offer as diagnostic information on your website

Where it gets difficult is when you try to work on more sophisticated SEO aspects of your website.  The competitive positioning in your market sector may be changing over time.  The search engine algorithms may be modified in a way wh
ich affects rankings. It may even be difficult to see how to do appropriate experimentation and be sure that you have really identified how to achieve optimal results that will endure.

SEEO

SEEO Search Engine Evolutionary Optimization,

The last two letters here are meant to signal Evolutionary Optimization, a somewhat complex methodology often applied to chemical processes with uncertain mechanisms.  We only use the words here to help explain a concept.  If optimization is thought to be a process of getting to the top of the hill, Evolutionary Optimization is concerned with merely getting a little higher on the hill, without knowing necessarily where the top of the hill is.  In testing for SEO, we should have that same concept in mind. 

SEEO then is Search Engine Evolutionary Optimization.  We may never know the ultimate that is possible, but we are always looking for incremental improvement.  Our split A/B tests should indicate which way to change to get a better result.  However they are not guaranteed to be the final answer and an ongoing program of testing should always be done.

That extra E for Evolutionary is a powerful reminder that SEO is not something you do for a website and then forget. It is ongoing to identify when things are changing in unexpected ways.  Doing EO you are constantly looking for better results.  Sometimes you may even find it is needed to correct an erosion in rankings that changes in algorithms were causing.

This process will not give those long-term SEO truths for all websites that we may have sought.  It will however give ways of improvement at this point in time for this particular website.  Continuing testing will then confirm how to keep improving as the search world evolves.

Barry Welford

Offering practical, effective ways of strengthening Internet marketing strategy and getting bottom-line success, particularly through local SEO.

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14 Responses to “SEO Truths Or Should That Be SEEO?”

  1. I am inclined to think that all this uncertaintly makes SEO blogging important. The key is to presnet truths and theories, rather than "the truth".

    BTW, that image makes me wonder if soon computers will be so self-functioning that even a monkey can operate them.

  2. Dean says:

    Another great read Barry, SEO may face uncertainties at every angle, it is all in the approach. Over time we may have gathered many strings to our bows but translating the concepts when we all muster a different set of tools to accomplish the same goals is the harder part.

  3. john chen says:

    Nice and controversial article. I have to disagree with you that SEO is easy.

    Rather I propose that it is easy to view SEO as easy, but unless you are actually doing it everyday and for many different websites / clients. SEO is hard.

    Google gives us bits and pieces, but sometimes its in shades of gray. SEO's will argue its more white or more black, both could be right or wrong.

    I liked your ideas on SEEO, it is indeed an evolutionary game, until the day that humans can get the information they want, anywhere, anytime in a blink of an eye. SEOs will continue to exist and SEO blogs will continue to serve good and bad information.

    Books are great to reference to, but in such a fast moving industry of SEM. Blogs are a better sources of information.

    regards

    John

  4. Joey says:

    I don't think anyone (outside of Google) actually really knows.. most people have a fair idea, but a lot of it is trial and error – and the moment people start to cotton on, the algorithms change, and the guess work starts again.

  5. Justin Parks says:

    Im with John Chen on this one.

    If it was easy then everyone would be number 1, which is impossible right? So never mind the fact that no one ever really knows what "rules" Search Engines have(I did say engines there, it is plural) we are in competition with each other as well so the variables multiple dramatically.

    I guess I wouldnt like it if was easy either though, then it would just be called boring.

    The SEEO bit is spot on. Evolutionary optimisation… ironic really, isn't Evolution and Optimisation the same thing at the end of the day… :P

  6. Jacob Stoops says:

    I just think that like spam, good SEO content has been diluted over the years. IMO, solid SEO starts with the idea that you're putting together a puzzle, some pieces are bigger than others, some are small, some are in your control, and some aren't…but that they all contribute to putting the overall puzzle together!

  7. [...] SEO Truths Or Should That Be SEEO?, The SEO Scoop [...]

  8. Noah says:

    That last picture is awesome, but I have to question working on your computer completely naked. Definitely need some pajama bottoms, if ya ask me…

    Seriously, though, SEO can be hard or easy, it all depends on your thought process and the term you're trying to conquer. The only true way to ever know whether or not something is a factor in ranking is to test it for yourself.

  9. Andy Ciordia says:

    The game is always changing and you have to be testing to see it happen. Metrics don't lie though and SEO is evidenced. Being human and writing for your readers and hotspot search vectors are important. Gaming the system though has gotten much harder and Bing upped the ante and Google is following suit.

    Bad for Korean Robots, good for Humans.

  10. john andrews says:

    It's not surprising that Google can manipulate the SEO industry so easily. There are so many different levels of SEO: newbies and those who claim it is easy and there are just basic steps (or "just make good content", those who sell snake oil wrapped up as SEO, and those who actually compete with everyone else, doing serious SEO work. As real SEO goes underground, the popular SEO press can say just about anything and it will sound reasonable.

  11. Kat says:

    This post was a refreshing read. Blogging about seo is a marketing practice in itself – I often feel like people are less interested in sharing actual information and more interested in letting people know that you are there. When there is no one answer and they're changing all the time there's some real opportunity for endless content!

  12. dwippy says:

    I do not take much of what Google or the Google Guy Matt Cutts says seriously. They want people to stop something so they say that it doesn't work. They decided Page Sculpting was messing with their spiders ability to surf so they decide that they took it away. Whose to say WHEN they actually took it away.

  13. Andre Colt says:

    SEO Truths Or Should That Be SEEO?A very informative discussion about the Real Value of SEO. Sometimes I doubt doing SEO Task but rather than believing on theories and facts I really rely that some factors in SEO are important.It is like a chess game you have a lot of piece and sacrifice your pawns just to beat your opponents same as competing on SEO..I like the article!!

  14. SEOborg says:

    One other SEO myth is the DMOZ submission :) DMOZ has a psychological effect on webmasters and SEO people whereas this is only a myth. The myth is DMOZ boosts your SERP…